War Memorial Gary Trouton

Anne Brown's Peruvian Adventure

February 2005

Welcome to Part I of Anne's South American Oddessy.

Anne Brown's Peruvian Adventure

(Anne is the relief Postmistress at Stoke Ferry Post Office)

Just thought you might find this interesting...In July I set off for Peru, my adventure starting on the M25, when a foreign lorry did his best to run me off the road. That was scary. Things can only get better.

At Gatwick I met two girls on a similar trip to me, and we stuck together to face changing planes in Atlanta. It took 3 hours to be checked and checked again. I had to stand on yellow footprints on a mat with hands raised "higher" , "don't let them drop" , "palms up" and not a smile in sight. A female, metal detected me all over and then put on rubber gloves before patting me to check I had no hidden guns. Later I noticed that two of the stewardesses were big burly blokes, just in case I had managed to bring a gun aboard.

I met the other 6 of my group and our leader, in Lima and I saw the Pacific for the first time. I also saw ordinary homes with 8 ft fences around them, topped with broken glass or rolled barbed wire and finished off with a two-strand electric fence! "What happens if someone is electrocuted?"..."Well they shouldn't have been there" seemed a sensible answer.

Lima is a beautiful city of Spanish design. Lots of decorated balconies. We went into the Convent of San Francisco; it consisted of many courtyards and arches. When they have earthquakes (and they have many small ones each year, and usually something bigger in March) arches continue to stand and flat ceilings descend. The arched catacombs, full of bones sorted by type (e.g. all the thigh bones together) have helped this building to stand for several hundred years. I gathered that there is no insurance against earthquake damage. Local businesses and governors foot the bill for public building repairs.

They have a water shortage in Lima, I could have taken some had I known...and the mains only flow for 6 hours in the daytime. If you do not have a tank to fill, you do not have water at night. This should be solved in December when there will be rain on the hills. Our hotel had come to grips with this problem, a cold shower and a bathroom window that did not shut. All drinking water had to be bought, even in restaurants.

We were taken to a restaurant to choose what to eat for lunch. I looked for something I had never eaten before, and selected fish in a new type of batter and fried yucca roots.

Then by plane to Arequipa; before we were allowed on board we had to give the phone number of our next of kin! Only an hour's flight but films and a delicious hot ham and cheese roll followed by fresh fruit salad, all accompanied by a laugh a minute conversation with English speaking Peruvians.

Three snow covered volcanoes surround the city and, thankfully, the hotel had arched ceilings.

I explored this strange city by myself and managed to get lost, I was whisked into a police station where all the officers had guns of one sort or another and taken into a small back room. All I needed was a map, but had to wait. Then an English speaking officer arrived and a young constable wrote me down in his book...wish I could have understood Spanish...he then took me to the next street and my hotel. Surprise, surprise he did not want a tip!

This a busy city; the police keep order with guns and armoured trucks with cow catchers on the front and water cannons on top. We walked to a convent, really beautiful, with courtyards and saw the nuns apartments, several rooms, one for their servants a little basic, and theirs with pianos, silk carpets and silver tableware. Traditionally the second daughters of the rich lived here for life. (The elder daughters were married off, to rich old men.)

We had an early lunch, as the guide had looked at my watch, which was not Peruvian time. I chose the traditional 'cuy' (guinea pig). No one else was brave (or mad) enough. It was deep fried, crispy, tasting a little like rabbit, and served with potatoes. Until the Spanish arrived here, there was very little choice of meat; no pork, beef or horse. Alpacas and lamas were needed for wool and as beasts of burden. Their rabbits are different to ours with big bushy tails, and no one ate them. That evening we all ate alpaca; it tasted like beef.

Scrambled eggs for breakfast, today, and every day. Then by coach to the Colca Canyon. It was a long journey up into the Andes, as the road we should have used had been swept away by a mudslide. We must eat sweets (never been told this before) and drink water to counteract altitude sickness. I also chewed lime and caco leaves, to prevent sickness. I was the only one to do this and was the only one to be ill on the coach. When I got home I looked those leaves up in the dictionary, cocaine. I also brought a couple of leaves home through American customs!! Coca was used to flavour sweets and leaves on the dining tables to make tea.

No trees, just sand, scrubby grass, cacti that have yellow fruit that look and taste like sour kiwi. Large clumps of moss are dried and used as fuel. We saw vicunas, like lamas but have much finer wool; lots of white, brown and mottled alpacas; holes are punched in their ears through which each owner threads differed colour wool. The animals roam freely, like the Welsh sheep. They and lamas are clipped every two years and sold for meat. The sides of the valley are very fertile and stepped fields grow onions, garlic, 20 types of potatoes and pumpkins.

We arrived in Chivay and, after I was given 5mins oxygen to counteract the altitude. We all went to the hot springs; being tough we used the outside bath. It was hot, even though the temperature was dropping to -7.

We were pleased to see electric heaters in our rooms. There is virtually no central heating in Peru. The Peruvians wear warmer clothes and sit around a fire if cold. We were also given 2 hot water bottles each, great. On to a restaurant where our guide lit the fire. We were given mulled wine while our order was taken. I chose corn soup, local trout, which looked like plaice, a cold wholemeal pancake topped with hot apple and coffee. With a tip this cost me £3.50.

Next to the Colca Canyon to see Condors flying. Wherever there was a coach stop for toilets locals, wearing national costume, were selling very colourful knitted and woven goods and wanting you to pay to take photos of their children with lamas etc. Some of their hats were almost pointed and I discovered that they sometimes bind babies' heads to make them the right shape to fit these hats. The canyon was deeper than the Grand Canyon in U.S.A. At 8am sharp the birds appeared, soaring on the thermals. They weigh about 21 lb and have a 10ft wingspan. A slight contrast to the humming birds in the bushes below. It was the best part of the holiday, up to now...silent and breathtaking.

On returning to Chivay I had a walk around town. The taxis were three wheeler motorbikes, the people friendly, the food market crowded with food, the other stalls filled with handmade goods, with the stallholders busy knitting. Children were skipping with a long rope and chanting rhymes and were happy. I saw no toys for sale, except footballs. I looked around the church and was intrigued by a glass coffin with a two-year-old body wearing a nightdress. I finished the day at an Italian restaurant.

To be continued next month......

Anne Brown

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